Updated: September 7, 2016 12:00:46 pm
The Supreme Court’s directive to Karnataka to release 15,000 cusecs of water daily from the Cauvery to Tamil Nadu for the next 10 days has triggered tensions. Local farmer bodies in Karnataka have called for a state bandh and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has scheduled an all-party meeting. Karnataka contends that there is not enough water to meet Tamil Nadu’s demand, which is based on the Cauvery tribunal award. There is some truth to Karnataka’s claim. The monsoon failed the catchment area of the Cauvery and its tributaries in Karnataka and major reservoirs have reported poor water levels. A more delicate intervention from the Supreme Court that recognised the plight of Karnataka may arguably have helped prevent a flare-up.
The Cauvery dispute has been in the Supreme Court for long. Though the tribunal declared an award in 2007, all four states which have claims on the river challenged the allocations. The appeals are pending. The administrative mechanism instituted by the court too has been ineffective whenever the monsoon fails: The river takes care of everyone’s needs on its own in a normal monsoon year. The tribunal award itself has been criticised for the way it assessed water availability — it didn’t factor in ground water in the river basin, which is more in the lower riparian region and less in the upper riparian state. But rather than lean on the judiciary for solutions, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puduchery need to shed their present regional approach and plan collectively for the whole river basin. Farmers in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu need to understand each other’s needs and fears and collectively seek solutions. Initiatives like Cauvery Family, an inter-state collective of farmer groups in the two states, could facilitate this process. Besides, transmission of quick and accurate information — rainfall to reservoir storage — could help dispel the current mistrust among the different stake-holders. The fact is the Cauvery basin is overdeveloped and legal instruments are insufficient to address the recurring water crisis.
Attempts to resolve the Cauvery dispute have so far focused on resource sharing while ignoring equity and efficiency issues. Besides agriculture, urbanisation and industrialisation in the Cauvery basin and beyond are adding to the stress on the river. Water availability in the Cauvery is unlikely to increase, hence solutions ranging from disincentivising water-intensive crops and agri practices to reducing overdependence on the Cauvery by encouraging decentralised water management are necessary.
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